The #1 Reason why there is a Broadway Theater crunch today. #ChartAlert

Talk to any Broadway Producer these days, and the #1 problem we’re all facing isn’t raising money, it isn’t marketing, and it isn’t even all the life-sized Elmos in Times Square (where “Tickle Me” takes on a whole different meaning).

The #1 problem facing Broadway Producers is the lack of theater availability.

Unless you’ve got a major star in your pocket, have produced a massive-sized hit in the past or can turn on a dime and slide into an unexpected opening like we did with Spring, the theater owners are most likely to tell hopeful Producers looking for a home for their show that there just ain’t any room at the inn.

The landlords themselves will tell you that this is a pretty big contrast to not too long ago when it was common to have several dark theaters throughout the year.

So what happened?  Why are we all full up?

The answer is . . . we’ve gotten too good.

We’ve gotten too good at getting our shows to run longer than they used to.  And it’s all in the charts below.

I pulled the average runs of the big four categories (New Musical, Musical Revival, New Play, Play Revival) and mapped them out for you so you can see just what is clogging up our developmental pipeline.  Ready?  Here goes.

The first is the chart of the average run of New Musicals since the 1950s . . .

new musicals

Amazing, right?  And no, you’re not seeing double, that trend line is real.

Oh wait, you actually are seeing double, because since the 1950s, we’ve DOUBLED the average run of new musicals to about 600 performances (which is just under a year and a half).

Of course, the shows responsible for this massive change are the big long runners . . . the mega hits like PhantomLion King, etc. that take up residence at a theater and show no sign of going anywhere.

(By the way, the tail off at the end of this chart is mostly due to the fact that the big hits that opened in that decade just haven’t had time to catch up to the others yet – but give them time.)

So that’s new musicals, but what about revivals of musicals?

revival musicals

This chart has a little bit more of a mountain peak trend line, mostly due to two outliers . . . Oh! Calcutta! and Chicago.  But again, trending higher for sure, which means more unavailability.

And what about revivals of plays?  Certainly the limited run, star driven trend of the last few years must have cut short the run of revivals, right?

Think again, my good friends.  Think again.

While they’ve definitely flatlined over the past couple of decades, average performance counts are still significantly higher compared to how long these types of shows used to run.

revival plays

And yeah, I’ve skipped a category.  New Plays.  Because this is the one chart that is different from all others.

Take a look.

new plays

While the average run of new Broadway plays is up since the 50s, this is the category with the least amount of gain in 60 years!  We’re talking a growth of around 20% instead of 100%.  Shocking?

And when you jam all of these categories into one graph, it looks like this.

all shows

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?  Oh look at how far we’ve come.

Broadway has been a musical business since that happy accident that created The Black Crook.  But in the last twenty to thirty years, that business has exploded, taking our grosses to new heights, and filling our theaters to the brim.

And every year it seems we add more hits than flops (just look at how many shows are still running from last season – even Finding Neverlandwhich failed to get good reviews and Tony nominations).

There’s no question that the #1 reason why we’ve got less and less theater availability is that average runs are getting longer and longer.

Let’s just hope that recoupment rates are getting higher and higher along with it.

 

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What the Harry Potter play means for Broadway.

So, I don’t know if you heard, but J.K. Rowling isn’t done with the Harry Potter stories.

And her next incarnation of the wonderful world of wizards isn’t going to be in a book . . . and it isn’t going to be on a screen.

It’s going to be on a stage.

This past June, Ms. Rowling announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will open in the West End in the summer of 2016, and will be helmed by none other than Once and my Macbeth director, John Tiffany.

Ok, so, I never made it through all the Potter books or movies, but I gotta say, I’m excited to see it, especially since they signed up Tiffany (who staged the best show not on Broadway this past season – St. Ann’s Let the Right One In).

But there’s something else exciting about the announcement of this production.

The theater made it to the cool kids’ table.

Harry Potter is one of the most valuable and profitable franchises on the p-p-p-planet.  It’s a super-sized brand that has generated billions of bucks for everyone involved. And Rowling could have continued to pump out books and movies and Harry Potter key chains, blankets and Pez dispensers.

But for the next ‘stage’ of Harry’s life, she chose to bring him into the theater.

In 2013, Broadway tipped when Universal Pictures President, Jimmy Horowitz, told the NY Times that Wicked would be the most profitable venture in the company’s history – beating all of its movies.

And now, with Harry expanding to the stage, it seems that the major players in the entertainment industry are including the theater as part of their brand expansion (which is also why every single movie studio now has an internal Broadway shop dedicated to their titles).

This is a good thing.  It is.

Unless Broadway shows go the way of big budget movies, with projects assembled in the boardroom using only the artists that have tested well.  Those big box companies coming onto our shores need to remember to hand over the reins to artists like Tiffany and Producers like Sonia Friedman (who is on board for Potter).  

Because success in the theater is still the result of the independent maverick who goes their own way to make magic happen . . . kind of like Harry Potter himself.

 

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Why most first drafts of new plays are overwritten.

We get a lot of new plays submitted to us through our open submission program (we’re proud to be one of the few offices that take unsolicited submissions – even though, admittedly, it can take us a while to get to all of ’em, but if you saw our inbox, you’d understand) as well as through our script coverage service.

And if there’s one commonality between all of the new plays, especially the ones by new-er writers, it’s that most of them are overwritten.

By overwritten, I don’t mean that they’re just long.  Because I bet if you polled the most successful playwrights, screenwriters, novelists, speechwriters, etc. about the first drafts of their best work, they’d all say the final draft was shorter (or, as I like to say, more efficient) than their first.  So all of us start out with too much, and that’s not necessarily bad. (I often describe the rewriting process like sculpting a statue – you start with a glob of clay . . . you take a little off, then a little more, and then a little more . . . )

So it’s not long I’m talking about.  What I’m talking about is different . . . and it’s specific to writing for the stage or any performance art, as opposed to fiction, poetry, etc.

See, the text you type into your little word processor, or Final Draft if you want to be really cool (I swear by it), wasn’t meant to be read.  It was meant to be said.

And I find that one of the simplest mistakes that all writers make is that they forget that great actors don’t need a ton of text to get a certain emotion across.  Or, simply said, the words don’t have to do all the work.  The inflection, the body language, the movement, and so on can sometimes do so much more than a paragraph of words that try to do the same thing.

Overwriting is an easy trap to fall into, because as Terrence McNally told me in his podcast, writing is the ultimate activity for control freaks.  And if you’re a control freak, then you might find yourself writing too much “to make sure that the audience gets it.”

But that’s not necessary.  Make sure the director gets it.  He or she will make sure the actor gets it.  And the audience will not only get it, but they’ll enjoy it that much more.

(This blog-tip was inspired by my Director of Creative Development, Eric Webb, who is the guy who reads all those script submissions.  Eric and I are cookin’ up a cool program with more writer tips like this, but we’re not ready to talk about it yet.  But if you want to be the first to know, sign up below.  It won’t be announced on this blog, so the email below is the only way to get the scoop.)

 



 

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Podcast Episode #33: A ‘smash’ of a writer, Theresa Rebeck!

In the time it took me to write this blog post, Theresa Rebeck probably finished another play.

And I’d bet you my blog subscribers, it’s a good one.

Theresa Rebeck is one of the most prolific writers we have in our business.  And I don’t just mean the business of Broadway.  I mean in the entire business we call show!  See, Ms. Rebeck is one of those few writers who writes for the stage, the screen, the small screen, the novel . . . and I wouldn’t be surprised if she told me she wrote some supreme court decisions and greeting cards in her spare time.

So tune in to hear the writer of Seminar and Smash talk about . . .

  • How the heck she writes so much and where she gets her ideas.
  • The differences between writing for the Stage and the Screen, and how she switches hats in an instant.
  • What happened with Smash, and could we ever see another Broadway-themed TV show?
  • How she and I became friends, and why that’s important to your career.
  • What all young writers should be doing.

. . . and a heck of a lot more . . . because we packed a lot of stuff into this 30 minute podcast, which is punctuated with Theresa’s infectious positivity and incredible passion for what she does.

Enjoy Theresa!

(Oh, and one production note – Theresa and I recorded this podcast over Skype, like the fancy-techno-geeks we are, so you’ll notice that she doesn’t sound like she is in the same room as me.  Because she wasn’t.  She was in Vermont.  Where she probably finished three plays, two movies, and a research paper on early Hungarian cabinetmaking.)

Click here to listen.

Listen to it on iTunes here.  (And give me a rating, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

Click here to read the transcript.

 

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10 Shows that Stand Out at the Fringe – 2015

Trumpets, please!  The NYC Fringe Festival is about to begin! Da-da-da-da!!!!

Before I announce this year’s “10 Shows That Stand Out,” I thought I’d fill you in on the history of why I do this every year.

Think back (insert Wayne’s World time travel sounds here) to circa 2002 . . .  I was a Company Manager wannabe Producer, so I was scouting out shows everywhere, including the Fringe Festival. I picked up that year’s catalog of shows, and flipped through, circling shows that got my attention, just based on their blurbs.  One of those shows was a brilliant little comedy called 6 Story Building by a guy named Kevin Del Aguila.

Yep, that Kevin Del Aguila, who went on to write Altar Boyz, star in Peter and the Starcatcher, and he even won an Emmy Award earlier this year.  Without me circling 6 Story Building in that catalog, Altar Boyz wouldn’t be what it became, and I might not be sitting here in my office, writing this blog.

So you see, how shows pitch themselves in 50 words can change a lot of people’s lives.  And that’s why every year, I go back to my roots, print out the catalog and circle shows that jump out and say, “Hey – take a look at me!” and list them in this blog.  Now remember, speaking super frankly, just because the show appears on this list doesn’t mean it’s any good . . . it just means there was something about it that said, “Huh, this show could have a future.”

And with that . . . here we go . . . these are the 10 Shows that Stand Out at this year’s Fringe (in alpha order) . . . and why:

1.  CODA (Children of Deaf Adults)

Ok, look, this one is personal.  Obviously I’m producing the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening this fall, so the radar goes off when I see anything that has to do with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.  So this one may have gotten to me more than others, but there’s something to learn from this when targeting your marketing to Producers.  Got a show with a specific issue/theme/story . . . find people with an affinity for that same issue/theme/story, and go at ’em . . . hard.

2.  Far From Canterbury

You know what Wicked and Lion King and Phantom and Aladdin all have in common?  Yes, they are all super-sized hits.  Duh.   But they also all have an element of fantasy to them (lions don’t really sing, you know).  Broadway loves a fantasy (Hollywood, even more so), which is why my eyes lit up at this show which “is set in a land where the magic of fairy tales is real.”  And the lands of fairy tales also tend to have pretty decent sized spectacles . . . like Wicked and Lion King and Phantom and Aladdin.

3.  Hamlet the Hip-Hopera

Without a doubt hip hop/rap is the next music form to dominate Broadway (Hamilton is just the beginning of the revolution) so anything that incorporates this exciting art form intrigues me.  But hey, I’m the guy who wanted to turn 8 Mile into a musical (seriously – watch this – and imagine it on stage!).

4.  Hard Day’s Night

Ok, so the title dragged me in . . . because obviously it has me thinking the Beatles.  Who doesn’t love the Beatles?  So immediately when reading the title, I’m saying, “Yes . . . ”  (There’s an ol’ school sales tip of getting someone to say “Yes,” to something before making a bigger ask to get the person in the right frame of mind and this title does that.  For example, “Would you like to save money on your car insurance?”)  Now, the challenge for this show is that it has to deliver, because my expectations are high.  And although the Beatles do figure into the plot of this story about a “f**king crazy family,” this ain’t a jukebox musical.  But as one advertising executive said to me once, “It’s my job to get butts in seats.  It’s your job to make sure they have a great time.”  Titles can get butts in seats.  Just don’t disappoint, because your word of mouth will be twice as bad if the audience feels duped.

5.   Hick: A Love Story, The Romance of Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt

Hamilton is just one of the many examples we’ve had of musicals with political figures in the literal spotlight.  1776, Fiorello, Clinton, etc.  And now we have a intimate look into the life of Eleanor Roosevelt and her relationship with Lorena Hickok through the 2,336 passionate letters the First Lady wrote to her.  Who doesn’t love looking deep into the private lives of public figures?  I was intrigued by this one, but on the fence, until I read two great quotes from the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Guardian that were in the blurb.  It wasn’t just the quotes that got me, it was where they were from.  Sources do mean a lot . . . and a city is a source in itself.  You’ve heard, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere!”  Well, you gotta be more than a slouch to make it in San Fran, for sure.

6.  Little One

This blurb grabbed my attention because of a quote as well, but this one wasn’t about the play.  Apparently the National Post, Globe & Mail and Now Magazine called the author of Little One, Hannah Moscovitch, “Canada’s Hottest Young Playwright.”  Often when Producers go shopping in festivals like the Fringe, they don’t find shows . . . but they do find artists.  So even though the “thriller” aspect of Little One did appeal to meI’m intrigued in this one not because of what’s in the festival today, but what might be on Broadway tomorrow.

7.  Serial: The Parody!

People love parodies.  Period.  Forbidden Broadway ran for 174 years.  50 Shades of Grey had two musical parodies.  Audiences are going nuts at That Bachelorette Show.  And yeah, Serial was so popular, it obviously is going to have a built in audience who wants to see it mocked . . . relentlessly.

8.  The Mad Scientist’s Guide to Romance, Robots and Soul-Crushing Loneliness

Can there be a more Fringe-y title than this one?  But that’s not what got my attention here.  What got me to include Mad Scientist on this list wasn’t seeing it in the catalog.  It was seeing it in my inbox. The producers of the show reached out to me about a week ago . . . with a very personal email, saying that they were “big fans,” mentioning the show as a possible tenant for my theater (they smartly targeted my interests, not theirs), and that they hoped I would include the show in my annual list of 10 picks of the Fringe. They knew what they wanted, and they asked for it.  And they got it.  Obviously this team knows the cardinal rule that it takes more than one impression to make a purchase.  You’ve got to hit your audience up in a variety of places.  And they got to me days before I started composing this list . . . yeah, like they planned it that way.  I don’t know whether the show will be great (although it sounds fun, it’s “70 minutes and you can drink during the show”), but the marketing certainly has been smart.

9.  The Submarine Show

The last line of The Sub Show‘s blurb reads, “Created by Emmy Award Winner Slater Penny and former Cirque Du Soleil Performer Jaron Hollander.”  See, you’re interested already, aren’t you?  Creators can be stars too, especially if they are winners of ANY award, never mind an Emmy, or if they’ve performed with one of the coolest entertainment companies in the world.  Talent by association is a thing.  Don’t forget to pitch your creative teams . . . heck, even your producing team if they’ve got cred.  (“From the Producers of August: Osage County” was used a few years ago for a Broadway play.)

10.  This Side of the Impossible

A Producer’s job is to see what else is working in the entertainment world to get a sense of what audiences are buying (that’s what led to my first hit, The Awesome 80s Prom – I had seen the success of Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding and the thousands of ripoffs and thought, “Man, people love them some interactive theater!”).  Penn & Teller is crushing it at the Marquis Theatre right now.  The Illusionists crushed it last Christmas (and I hear they are coming back).  And rumor has it David Blaine is looking for an NY spot for his show (he may have even taken a peek at my theater).  So when I read a blurb about a “Best of Fringe” winner at the San Fran FF that includes mind reading and “remarkable feats of the mystics,” I can’t help but think this is something that might work elsewhere.  True, true, I was a magic geek as a kid . . . but deep down, I think a lot of us still are.

 

So those are this year’s Top 10, along with these honorable mentions:  CopingPlathRunning Interference  and SCHOOLED (which was featured in our reading series a couple o’ years ago!).

What do you think of the above?  Any you like or don’t?  Flip through the catalog yourself and see what stands out to you . . . then tell us about it below.

And if you want to see a Fringe show, or 100 Fringe shows, don’t forget to enter my contest to win free tickets to as many as you want to see!  Click here.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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